CEO Bill Pulver says the Australian Rugby Union will keep an open mind and won’t rule out any option which allows them to retain their top players.
The issue of player sabbaticals is under the spotlight again little more than two weeks before the start of the Super Rugby season, following reports Wallabies back-rower David Pocock wants to take a year off after his contract expires at the end of 2016.
Pulver said Pocock having a year off for study leave was “in the mix” of ongoing discussions, but stressed keeping him in Australia and away from overseas sides was a major priority.
“Clearly David Pocock is one of the world’s best players, if not the world’s best player, so suffice to say we’re very eager to keep him in Australian rugby,” Pulver said.
“We believe he wants to stay in Australian rugby so those discussions are ongoing.
“He’s a very special player, we want him to remain long term in Australian rugby.
“By long term I want to see him running on for Australia in the 2019 World Cup.
“We’ll sit down and have discussions with him about what is the best arrangement that will suit all parties concerned, to make sure that happens.
“Frankly we’re open to any option, but it’s got to be a balanced outcome that’s right for the player, right for the Super rugby club and right for Australian rugby, so we don’t rule anything out.
“We will keep an open mind.”
The ARU has already implemented some flexible contracts which allow stars in their prime like Bernard Foley and Israel Folau to play overseas in the off-season, without being lost to Australian rugby.
“I don’t want to see the 23-year-olds go and play in the northern hemisphere, they should be here in Australia helping us develop the game,” Pulver said.
“Frankly we would rather they play in Japan because from a time zone perspective and the physicality of the competition, we’ll get them back in better shape than if they were playing in France or England.”
Pulver admitted it was hard to compete with cashed up overseas clubs and the ARU needed something more than money to slow the offshore talent drain.
“We combat that by trying to create an environment here which is such a wonderful environment they want to be a part of it,” Pulver said
“We think that’s what (coach) Michael Cheika is doing with the Wallabies.
“We want our fans to be able to see our star players. Money is not the only reason they play.”